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Collecting American Eagle Bullion Coins
american eagle gold bullion coinBy Arlyn G. Sieber
May 26, 2010
american eagle gold bullion coin


This article was originally printed in the book The Instant Coin Collector, by Arlyn G. Sieber.
>> Click here for more information on this book.

 

Silver American Eagle bullion coins, and their gold counterparts, were historic firsts for the U.S. Mint when they made their debut in 1986. They were the first official U.S. coins struck primarily to be bought and sold for their bullion value.


American Eagle bullion coins can be held in individual retirement accounts. Some individual date and mintmark combinations, however, also have collectible numismatic value, including proof versions. The story behind the coin Gold and silver bullion coins, produced by various countries, are official government issues. They are legal tender, and usually have a nominal face value, but they are produced and sold as a convenient way for private citizens to invest in precious metals and are not intended to circulate. To facilitate their trade, the coins are sized based on their precious-metal content. Gold bullion coins, for example, usually contain either a tenth-ounce, quarter-ounce, half-ounce, or full troy ounce of gold. Silver bullion coins usually contain one troy ounce of precious metal.

The standard sizes and credibility of the issuing authority give investors and collectors confi dence that when they buy one of the coins they are getting the stated amount of precious metal in the stated purity. South Africa was the sole player in the bullion-coin market for a number of years. It introduced the Krugerrand, which contains one ounce of 0.917-fi ne gold, in 1967. Fractional versions of the Krugerrand(tenth-ounce through half-ounce) were introduced in 1980.

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Other countries followed with their own versions of bullion coins. Among the most popular are Canada’s Maple Leaf, China’s Panda, Great Britain’s Britannia, and the Isle of Man’s Angel. In 1986, the United States introduced its American Eagle series of gold and silver bullion coins, and they have also gained popularity in the market. A platinum Eagle was introduced in 1997. The gold and platinum Eagles are offered in tenth-ounce, quarter-ounce, half-ounce, and one-troy-ounce versions. Silver Eagles are offered in just one size, which contains one troy ounce of 0.999-fi ne precious metal.

The U.S. Mint adapted two classic coinage designs for the gold and silver Eagles. Obverse of the gold coins is Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ design used on the gold $20 coin of 1907-1933. Many consider it the most beautiful coin design in U.S. history. The gold coins’ reverse, designed by Miley Busiek, shows a family of eagles with the adult returning to her young in a nest. Obverse of the silver Eagles was adapted from Adolph Weinman’s Walking Liberty design used on the half dollar of 1916-1947. It, too, is a favorite design of longtime collectors. The silver reverse features a modern but classically styled heraldic-eagle design by John Mercanti.



Where To Get Them

Regular strikes of silver American Eagle bullion coins can be purchased from coin and bullion dealers. The U.S. Mint does not sell them directly to the public. Instead, the Mint sells bulk quantities to distributors, who in turn wholesale the coins to retailers. Proof versions have been produced since the coin’s inception in 1986, and the current-year issue can be purchased directly from the Mint (www.usmint.gov). In 2006, the Mint began selling current-year uncirculated versions of the silver and other Eagles directly to the public.



How Much?

The retail price of regular strikes of the silver American Eagle is based on the current price of silver bullion plus a small premium. Collectible uncirculated versions generally sell for $15 to $20, but prices are again subject to change depending on the current trading price for silver. Proof silver American Eagles generally sell for $30 to $60, but some issues with lower mintages bring more. The scarcest is the 1995 proof silver Eagle with a “W” mintmark, which was included only in Eagle proof sets celebrating the series’ 10th anniversary. It sells for more than $5,000, according to Coin Prices magazine.



Mintmarks

Regular strikes of silver American Eagle bullion coins are produced at Philadelphia and do not have a mintmark. From 1986 through 1992, proof versions were struck at San Francisco and have an “S” mintmark. From 1993 through 2000, proof versions were struck at Philadelphia and have a “P” mintmark. In 1995, as noted, proof silver Eagles were also produced at West Point, N.Y.

These scarce coins have a “W” mintmark and were struck for inclusion in a special Eagle bullion coin proof set celebrating the program’s 10th anniversary. Since 2001, proof silver Eagles have been struck at West Point and have a “W” mintmark. In 2006, to celebrate the silver Eagle series’ 20th anniversary, the Philadelphia Mint produced a special “reverse proof” in addition to the regular West Point proof version for that year. The “reverse proof” features a frosted finish in the field and a mirror-like finish on the raised design surfaces, just the opposite (or reverse) of a traditional proof. The 2006 reverse proofs have a “P” mintmark and were available only in a three-coin silver Eagle set (proof, uncirculated, and reverse-proof versions). Since 2006, as noted, the Mint has sold uncirculated versions of current-year silver Eagles directly to the public. These special collector versions are struck at West Point and have a “W” mintmark. The mintmark on silver Eagles appears on the reverse below the eagle’s right claw.



Condition

Condition is not a factor for silver Eagles bought and sold solely for their bullion content. On collectible coins, traditional high points for wear on the Walking Liberty design are the hair on Liberty’s left temple and the upper part of her left leg. Uncirculated and proof versions of the silver Eagle should be free of major scratches and other blemishes. How to store them Security is more of a concern than preservation for silver Eagles bought and sold solely for their bullion content. A bank safety-deposit box or other secure, fi reproof system is recommended for bulk quantities of silver or other Eagle bullion coins. For collectible versions, an inert holder in which both sides of the coin are protected is recommended. Uncirculated and proof versions should be kept in their original Mint packaging, if available.



Silver American Eagle Bullion Coin Specs

Obverse designer: Adolph A. Weinman.
Reverse designer: John Mercanti.
Diameter: 40.6 millimeters.
Weight: 31.1010 grams.
Composition: 99.93-percent silver, 0.07-percent copper.
Actual silver weight: 0.999 troy ounces.



The Fine Art of Fineness

Precious metal — be it gold or silver — must be alloyed with a small amount of base metal, such as copper, to make it suitable for coin production. The purity of precious metal in a coin is called “fi neness,” which is expressed in parts per thousand. For example, the silver American Eagle bullion coin is 0.9993 fi ne, which means it has 999.3 parts of pure silver for every 1,000 parts of total metal in the coin. Thus, the coin is said to contain one troy ounce of 0.9993-fine silver.



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